Zen warrior in blue: How Cerra’s calm manner belies the competitor within

One of the first things you notice when you meet Adam Cerra is his manners: a firm handshake and direct eye contact. As we chat further, what soon becomes apparent is his calm disposition and the real thought he gives to every question.

He’s not the loudest guy in the room, as his coaches note. Others at Carlton describe him as one of the most polite young men you’d meet. He takes mindfulness walks in the morning, and meditates at night – but judge this book by its cover at your peril. Cerra is a zen warrior in blue.

Adam Cerra’s quiet manner belies the competitor within.Credit:Justin McManus

One match simulation session over preseason sticks in the mind of those at Ikon Park. A first-choice midfielder, Cerra found himself in the blue bib saved for the seconds. In the orange were Patrick Cripps, George Hewett and Matthew Kennedy.

Though Cerra denies he had a chip on his shoulder, he trained as if he did. On top of his five clearances, he stopped Cripps dead in his tracks with a fierce tackle.

“Your back’s against the wall a bit playing against the ones team, I was having a crack, the competitive juices were definitely flowing that session,” Cerra told The Age.

“I wasn’t pissed off, just trying to…give them a bit of a challenge. And obviously the orange team normally win those games, but I thought I’d just test them out and have a crack in the contest and get on the fly a bit more.

“We all find ourselves rotating through the different teams, I think I was having a bit of fun with it. There were a few big tackles and jumper punches thrown. We were just being competitive. We all enjoy that. We’ll have a good laugh afterwards and [it] helps us become better players at the end of the day.”

This is Cerra’s second year at Carlton. His first came in what coach Michael Voss described as a “transformational” season for the Blues, who made the leap from cellar-dweller to a finals contender. There was change as well for Cerra, who finished 10th in the club’s best and fairest after missing four games.

As much as he loved Fremantle, Cerra knew his future was back home in Melbourne. His partner of six years Claudia – they met in year 12 – studies here. He was not homesick in Perth but Western Australia’s strict rules at the height of the pandemic made it difficult to see family.

Adam Cerra is enjoying life back home in Melbourne.Credit:Getty

Family means everything to Cerra. Now living around the block from IKON Park, he’ll go home every week or two for dinner with his parents at their Croydon North home.

“I get a real kick out of coming to the games and seeing them in the rooms, to share those experiences with them on the way,” Cerra said.

“And being able to get home for dinner during the week, seeing Mum and Dad it means a lot to them. I know they probably get a bigger kick out of it than I do. I just love my football, it brings them happiness and they can experience it with me.

“They’re the ones that helped me get to where I am today, so I want them to enjoy the journey as much as I am.”

The football public saw the great strides Carlton made on the field last year. Less well-known was the change within the club: the focus on becoming better teammates, rewarding desired behaviour and even the way players spoke to each other.

Eager to earn his stripes first, Cerra has become a more vocal contributor within the group this season. Leadership is a long-term aim, not because he is big on official titles – he figures it will help him become a better player, and Carlton a better team. The Blues coaches already see the smooth moving Cerra as a leader.

“What you don’t see off the field is this competitiveness – he’s not always trying to get his point across or pushing the point, you don’t see him being the loudest in the room,” midfield coach Tim Clarke said.

“But when he’s out there at training he’s the one putting his head in the hole, happy to compete against the bigger guys.

“He’s clear of what the gameplan is, he’s clear of what his role is, what the role of other players are. He invests in communicating to others all the time. You’re constantly seeing him setting up the ground, pointing to players, helping us set up on either defence or at stoppages.

“You know he’s done the work to understand what’s required at that moment. It’s great leadership. He asks a lot of questions, he invests a lot of time to understand the expectations around that moment in a game.

“He can communicate it. Not everybody can. A lot of people get caught up in the moment, or be drawn in by the game or the ball, whereas ‘Chez’ has a really good way about sitting back and assessing the game and helping others.”

Not much fazes the 23-year-old Cerra. When Kane Cornes lined him up last year, saying he would never become an A-grade midfielder, Cerra was not aware. He does not watch or listen to footy shows, and rarely posts on social media. The only expectations he is concerned at not meeting are his own and his coaches’.

He is halfway through explaining his use of mindfulness techniques when Charlie Curnow playfully taps on the glass separating Carlton’s gym and the club cafe to distract him. He does not lose his train of thought.

Cerra places a high degree of importance on the mental side of the game, first using the Headspace app at 19. Every morning, he will go for a walk, ignoring his phone to instead be absorbed in his surroundings.

“I take everything in, the sounds, I don’t rush through the streets, it’s a leisurely walk that’s helped me this year,” Cerra said. “I’ve done the sit down for 10 minutes and close your eyes sort of meditations, and they’re great as well. This year I’m trying something else. It’s keeping the routine fresh and changing it up.

“A lot of boys use it at the club. There’s just so many techniques. You can get to a fatigue point where you keep smashing reps mentally. Your mindfulness, visualization, there’s a real edge in the competition – those that are doing it, those that aren’t. I’m a big believer in it.”

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